Today I came across a marvelous section in the Apology (V) that speaks of the necessity of overlooking the faults and weaknesses of our fellow believers, both on the part of pastors (bishops) and on the part of the people. “Love covers a multitude of sins” is the verse that is being expounded:
Unity cannot last whenever the bishops impose heavier burdens upon the people, or when they have no respect for weakness in the people. Dissensions arise when the people judge too severely the conduct of teachers or despise the teachers because of certain less serious faults. For then, another kind of teaching and other teachers are sought after. On the other hand, perfection (i.e., the Church’s integrity) is preserved when the strong bear with the weak, when the people put up with some faults in the conduct of their teachers, and when the bishops make some allowances for the people’s weakness…
A well known saying puts it this way: know, but do not hate, the manners of a friend. Nor did the apostle thoughtlessly teach so often about this office what the philosophers call leniency. For this virtue is necessary for keeping public harmony (in the Church and the civil government). Harmony in the Church cannot last unless pastors and churches mutually overlook and pardon many things (Apol. V(III) :111-122).
How true is this in our own day! And how much needed such words are in the midst of so many dissensions within the Church! These words are not meant to downplay or treat as nothing the true doctrinal divisions among us. These must be addressed, particularly in the area of Church & Ministry. But we all must make allowances for the sake of the weak. Perhaps this is one thing I am learning more and more as a pastor. I don’t particularly like printing out the readings every week in the bulletin insert, on several different levels, but there are a few who have complained when I did not. So I do it. The same thing is true for other things in the church as well as with regard to other pastors. Everyone is at a different level of knowledge, piety, and faith. Not everything is perfect in this life. The Ministry is no place for a perfectionist.